Monday, 31 March 2014

Giving Away Books by Jan Ruth

SILVER RAIN will be FREE for Valentine’s Day.

‘You’re giving away your latest title? That’s crazy!’

I agree.

However, the indie industry is still relatively new and as with all things internet, the goal-posts are forever changing. Even in the ancient days of traditional publishing, books were gifted in an effort to raise profile, so paying for promotion and offering free material, is not going to go away. My experiment was more about the quest for visibility.

Giving away books remains a controversial argument. I admit, I find it hugely discouraging that as indie authors we are expected (quite rightly) to present carefully edited books with professional formatting and covers... but for free. I’ve never done it, not with a full-length novel which has taken me a year to produce. I have a set of short stories long-term free, but I’m not convinced it directs readers to seek out my other titles, no matter how much they enjoyed the material. Why should they? All readers need to do is wait for the next email from Bookbub or Book Blast and choose accordingly; they don’t even have to wade through Amazon’s list of free books, because their preferences are catered for and sized down to a couple of choices a day. Two clicks, and their reading material is sorted for the following week. From the author’s standpoint, this is a double-edged sword. I’ve had good results with both these promotional tools, but constantly relying on paid promotions is not really a viable long-term strategy. There has to be a bigger picture.

I chose to promote my latest title in this way partly as an experiment, because this time I wanted to split the performance between my own efforts through Twitter and my Facebook Author Page, and Book Blast. I did it this way because I wanted to achieve something long-term, I wanted to attract readers who would hopefully stay engaged and add to my slowly growing audience, my personal readership. Over the three years I’ve been self-published, I’ve heard various reports about Facebook and Twitter being no good for authors. I’ve never quite believed this because these two mediums are immensely powerful in the commercial world. Companies with far more sales awareness sink considerable funds into Facebook and Twitter. I suspect the real truth is that they are either under-used, or misunderstood and not used properly. Yes, I fell into these categories!

I was most certainly under-using my author page. It had some 500 likes on it - peanuts, and mostly other authors. I was talking to myself. Thousands of readers who may be interested in my books, didn’t know I was there, so I began by building the audience on my page by Promoting the Page. Facebook gives the option of targeting to subscribers who have expressed an interest in various subjects, so I chose keywords such as Kindle, reading,  fiction, Snowdonia, and so on. Then I targeted the age and gender. This cost something like £25, but I’m hoping this will be a long-term investment, reaching beyond the promotion of a single book. While the likes were building, I concentrated on garnering well-penned reviews from bloggers and beta-readers and posting these on the page, along with chat and photographs relating to the locations of the book, a soft sell approach. I created a pinned post about the up-coming free book. I was careful not to share items or books that were unrelated. I did something similar over on Twitter, increasing the quality of tweets and the regularity of the flow, with Feed 140.

It’s very easy to get lazy with all this stuff and turn it to spam, so I gave it some thought. I wanted to sell me; my books, my brand. This is an important point. I’ve spent considerable time (and money!) on creating my look, my branding and who I am. I wanted to key into this, to make my products work harder. It was labour intensive, but I actually enjoyed it, because it felt like a real investment.

What happened?

I promoted the book in two phases.

I set up Book Blast to mail out Silver Rain on Valentine’s Day only, which means in the UK the promotion doesn’t go live until 5pm. To cover all bases with different time scales, and to be able to split the experiment with Facebook and Book Blast, I used 3 free days in Select 13th-15th.

Day One: Facebook Promotion.

On the 13th, I stopped promoting the page and instead drew direct attention to the pinned post advertising Silver Rain as being free. This means selecting Boost Post. This is the direct promotion of the free book via the pinned post, to all those people who have liked the page PLUS their friends. The estimated reach was something like 11,000. I was er… sceptical! There is a lot of data collected by Facebook during these types of promotions (see insights) and it was interesting to cross reference the information with the use of Bitly; ie I could see the sales links clicks were telling the same story.

Silver Rain, at a price of £2.50 and a ranking of 250,000 was well down in the charts. I wanted to see if my efforts with Facebook (and a tentative dabble with Twitter) could bring the book out of obscurity before the paid promotion took over.

The results were astonishing.

From my Author Page alone: (and some twitter) US downloads 2,848: ranking at 44 free in store, 17 in Contemporary romance and 1 in Family Life.

UK downloads 1,027: ranking at 27 free in store, 10 in Contemporary romance.

Day Two: Book Blast Promotion.

Book Blast increased these figures to US downloads: 5,500 ranking at 53 free in store. UK downloads: 2,500 ranking at 11 free in store and 5 in Contemporary romance.


Facebook and twitter can equal the power of Book Blast.

8,000 is a lot of downloads, and let’s be honest, half of those people may never read the book, BUT they helped push it under the noses of thousands of readers who didn’t know I even existed. I’m currently selling at normal price, with the book ranked in the top 3,000 overall and a small take-up of the other titles. I don’t think it made any difference whether the free book was my first, third or hot off the press. Those new readers will not be aware of any publication dates. All they see is the price, and then the cover.

What is interesting is that my sales in the UK have doubled, and I know this isn’t down to Book Blast.  

Did I devalue myself? In a way, yes. It’s almost smelling like vanity publishing, and I’ve made more money from paperbacks purely because people will pay for a tangible item.

But this isn’t traditional publishing, and I think it pointless to compare with old methods. Experimentation with the tools we have available is vital. The only danger is to maybe exploit the reader or even ourselves, and this is where constantly offering free and heavily discounted IS under-selling and devaluing, but I can see how that black hole is ever-present and very easy to fall into.

Quality remains as my keyword, not only in what I produce, but in the way I promote too, and if used sparingly, I believe that free can be included under that umbrella.  

Sunday, 30 March 2014

Captain Square Jaw! Guest Post by Steve Hannam

My name is Steve Hannam and I write under the pen name of Danson Thunderbolt.  

Why Danson Thunderbolt?  Well, having written my first book I was looking for new character names and for some unknown reason started thinking of the actor Ted Danson.  This was way back before he was in C.S.I. Leicester, or whatever franchise location they had settled on.  The name Danson I liked.  Ted was my father’s name so I steered clear of that, but the name ‘Thunderbolt’ hit me literally like a...and as I was looking for a suitably ‘wacky’ name I decided to take that one as it was in keeping with the story I had just completed.  

My stories are grouped under the short snappy title of The Ever-So Heroic Adventures of Captain Square Jaw! and they are (so far) a couple of spoof pirate stories about the most famous pirate ever to have sailed the Six Seas, and the Manchester Ship Canal.  The influences are taken from my love of the 50’s and 60’s radio shows, The Goon Show and Round The Horne along with the visual and deadpan humour of The Naked Gun films, amongst others.  I love wordplay and puns and my stories reflect that, by playing with language, attempting to lead the reader one way and pulling the literary rug from under them with a punch line.

I started writing stories as most of us do when I was a child.  Mine first stories were based on a couple of Listen with Mother characters called Angus the Giant & Phineas the Pixie.  I must have been about 5 or 6 when I started these.  I was also an avid reader, having several books under my pillow at night times, so I could read before I went to bed.  How I haven’t got neck problems remains a mystery to this day.  I then started writing sci-fi stories based on my favourite TV show, which was Space: 1999 – I loved that show.  The stories, on reflection, were rubbish, but it didn’t matter.  I was a writer and a writer was what I wanted to be.  I even had a school exercise book for all my stories, given to me by a teacher wanting to encourage my creative writing.  As the years went on, I wrote less and less, focussing instead on becoming an actor.  However when my two sons were born, I decided to write a pirate adventure story featuring them both – It never got past the first page, but the seed was planted and in 2000 I played the lead role in the local panto, Sinbad!.  It was a really good show, but the director made the comment that I should keep my heroic captain very square-jawed and ‘Captain Square Jaw’ was born

It took me 5 years and several drafts to finish writing the first book and in 2006 I finally published Square Jaw and the Jewel of Essex – Book Juan.  This was followed up with Book Too! in 2008 and then immediately followed up (!) 6 years later with Square Jaw and the 49 Page Adventure! which was released as an eBook.  This WILL be followed within the next few months with the next adventure, again as an eBook.

People say that writing comedy is hard.  It is, but then I think that the whole process of writing is hard, not just a specific genre.  To try and come up with something that is different to what has gone before is incredibly difficult and sometimes quite stressful, but then again the other easier option is to simply not do it.  If we, as writers, didn’t like the stresses and processes of writing then we wouldn’t do it.  But we do love it and sometimes it can even provide some people with the opportunity to write for a living.  Maybe one day that may well happen for me too, but until that time, I’ll keep on writing as and when and hope that people like the adventures of Captain Square Jaw!

Saturday, 29 March 2014

How to make monkeys do your marketing... by Cally Phillips

There’s currently some talk within AE as to whether this is a good idea to do and so feedback here (or elsewhere) from members and blog readers would be welcomed.  I’m not sure that it’s application is really good for AE but I’ve used it for The Galloway Raiders and its working well for that.  And I won a free vinyl monkey toy for signing up.  Yes, I know, why would anyone want one? I refer to him now as my ‘marketing department’ but apart from that, I’m really not so sure that the world’s resources are being well utilised when such a thing even exists. Still, I’ve never won a free anything before so I shan’t look the gift monkey in the mouth.

marketing department, hanging around 
Without more ado…

How to get a monkey to do your marketing.
MailChimp to the rescue.  Go to
Sign up for a free account.

You get to the dashboard screen.
Account settings. You can stay on the free service as long as you have less than 2000 on your list and don’t send out more than twice a month.

Like everything techie, you just have to learn the lingo. So don’t do this while multi-tasking. Sit down with a coffee, allot yourself half an hour to an hour to set things up, play around, explore the options and remind yourself that eventually the monkeys will be doing all the work!

Okay, assuming you want to send out a regular email newsletter this is how the monkeys will do it for peanuts.
As we all know. Working from home means you can monkey
 around to your hearts content.

First you have to CREATE LIST. You have to invite people to subscribe to your list.  You can do this by importing emails but basically people have to ASK to join thus avoiding becoming a spammer!

So CREATE LIST  Just fill in the boxes on the dropdown menu.  You can also integrate this with Facebook and Twitter if you want.  Bit fiddly, but follow the instructions to the letter and whammo…
Now, to let people know they can subscribe:
SIGN UP FORMS  You can integrate it with your Facebook page and/or copy paste HTML to put the signup form on your website (or integrate directly via Wordpress)
(you will find lots of boxes asking you questions you may not understand. It’s my policy to ignore all these where possible and just focus on the things I HAVE TO or DO want to do to get it up and running. Frills come later, just get the basics down first)
So. We’ve got our list linked to FB/Twitter and web…  and invited people via email invites.
Allow yourself a good half an hour for this part – an hour if you are an ‘inquisitive’ person who likes to try out all the options and get confused by the things you don’t even need on offer!

monkey is at home in front of the computer
Now you can start thinking about the content you want to send people.
This is called a Campaign Basically this is just your newsletter. 
You have to CREATE a campaign
Select Regular ol’ Campaign  
You’re asked which list to send to – click the relevant one (All) then go to the bottom of the screen to start the process.
Fill in the information.   Ignore Tracking option till you get used to it (we’re looking at the easy options here)
SOCIAL NETWORKING Fill in this section if you want to link to FB and Twitter as well
Then go to TEMPLATE
I suggest Basic, where you can look around to find a style that suits you. Then you cut and paste edit it (you can do this directly on screen or from word) and once you’ve done it once you can use ‘recently sent’ to get the same template up again.
The whole Design thing is basically drag and drop and you can test and preview in advance of sending out.  A monkey could do it – just follow the instructions.
When you’ve finished with your design you save and exit/confirm. 
When you finally press NEXT (bottom right of screen) Mailchimp tells you you’re all set to send and you review the information and schedule/send.
and click CONFIRM
and also on the keyboard

As ever, remember that it’s the CONTENT this is really all about. The monkey can put it all together for you and send it out to folk but YOU have to create the content.  The rest is hidden from the world.  So my advice is have your content ready to drag/drop before you start the build the first time. Then play around with it (making sure everything you’ve written is backed up of course for when you delete it all by mistake!)
As long as you speak chimpanzee it’s a breeze. Just learn the monkey language, follow the instructions and it’s easier than typing Hamlet!

There’s lots more to explore but get the basics right first eh?
Reports  - this is excitement for later!  You can find out who opens the mails, how many times they engage and all sorts of interesting spying activity!!!
Autoresponders (not free so don’t worry about this) Useful of course, but FREE is more use to me at any rate. 

Well, that's a whistlestop tour through the joys of MailChimp.  If all else fails you can use the little critter for some subliminal marketing

I can't promise you a free monkey to do all your work for you, but you could become a member of The Galloway Raiders for free HERE and once you've subscribed, as well as all the other goodies on offer you'll get a monthly newsletter FREE direct to your email inbox.  Who could live without that eh? Just remember, I'm working with monkeys! 

Friday, 28 March 2014

Books are like Meals ... by Enid Richemont

Yesterday I went to the opening of The English Touring Opera show, for which my daughter was the designer. It was an operatic adaptation of the classic picture book by John Burningham, 'Borka, the Goose with no Feathers', and performed in a newish building at the Royal Botanical Gardens at Kew.

I went with a friend, in her car, for which I was grateful, because I had picked up the current London lurgy, and was feeling dreadful. I was so glad I hadn't cancelled, though, which I was tempted to do, because the production was amazing, and the reactions of the very young audience fascinating (I was intrigued, because I've only recently started writing for this age group). This image is courtesy of Robert Hugill a composer/reviewer who sat next to us (we didn't dare to photograph, because of sensitive feelings around photographing children). It shows (for those of you unfamiliar with the story), Mr and Mrs Plumpster, who are two geese with a problem gosling, Borka, who's been born without any feathers. This production will now be on the road, so check it out if it's coming to a school near you - it's brilliant.

The book I've just finished reading is Terry Pratchett's 'Interesting Times' - three hundred and fifty one pages, and he manages to be funny on every one, right up to the end. I call that genius. I don't read him often, but it's been a difficult month for me, and I needed cheering up, because at this time last year, my beloved husband, David, died suddenly of a heart attack.

Books are like meals. There are lengthy, satisfying ones, and ones that leave you still hungry at the end. There are ones you go back to, like well-established family grub that tastes slightly different each time because it's home-made, and then there are ready meals which are useful for filling a gap. There are gourmet treats, which you have to taste, re-taste, and savour - a lot of poetry falls into this category - and then there are sweetmeats. Terry Prachett's work reminds me of an old-fashioned sherbert-filled sweet which fizzed in the mouth, but which had a hard exterior you had to suck through - in other words, there's a backbone of seriousness in all his books, and they would not be as satsfying without it.

I love being sent a publisher's brief, because a. it's challenging, and b. it means they still think I can do it (and we still traditionally published authors are always pathetically grateful for these scraps that come our way). This year I had two. The first challenge was to write a proper book with chapters for emerging very young readers. This first hurdle I jumped successfully, with a book called: The Night of the Were Boy, which is a crazy little story about a 'were' cat who, when affected by the full moon, turns into a small boy. The second was even more challenging - an eighty word story for even younger readers. Eighty words? It's the length of a joke! But I managed to produce four of these, which were liked by my editor, but which still have to make the finishing line. Fingers crossed.

performance o Terry Pratchett/Borka/briefs/

Thursday, 27 March 2014

Real Earning Figures for ebooks - Andrew Crofts

One of the most annoying things when you are setting out on the self-publishing path is trying to find out exactly what other authors are earning in order to prepare your expectations. Authors are traditionally evasive about their earnings, either out of modesty or embarrassment, so it is almost impossible for a newcomer to get a true idea of what rewards are likely to lie in store.

So, in the hope of encouraging others towards greater transparency, I thought I would share some actual figures for my novella, “Secrets of the Italian Gardener”, which went up on Amazon about six months ago as part of their “White Glove Service”, in conjunction with United Agents, one of the biggest and most successful literary agencies in London.

After a month or so the money started to dribble in at about £50 a month, but much of that was from purchases which I had made of POD copies that I could hand out for promotional purposes.

The reviews started to build up on various blogs, writers’ websites and a variety of news sites. On Amazon UK there are currently twenty six and three on Amazon in the US and Europe. That meant that anyone coming across the book could feel pretty confident that they would not be wasting their money, but the problem still remained of how to alert people to the book’s existence in the first place – (the all-encompassing problem of “discoverability” which dogs ninety nine per cent of books ever published).

Once they could see the reviews building, Amazon included the book in a promotion which instantly raised it from around 150,000 on Kindle’s charts to being in the top thousand and number one in their “political books” category. Most of the sales were in the UK, but some also came from the US and Germany, (even though it has not yet been translated).

So, the actual money coming from Amazon in February was just over £850, from which United Agents deducted their well-earned fifteen percent. Since the costs of the cover design and the initial purchase of copies had been covered with the earnings from the previous few months, this was now clear profit. So far in March there hasn’t been another cheque, but if the book was a plant I would say it is firmly bedded in and starting to spread its roots. It should now be able to thrive once the sun warms the ground and blossom with time and continued tender care. Sometimes, of course, spring can seem agonizingly slow in coming.

Wednesday, 26 March 2014

E-book Pricing and Channels? It's All a Matter of ... Timing by Ruby Barnes

One of the advantages of being an independent author or micro-publisher is you get to choose and control your sales channels. One of the disadvantages of being an independent author or micro-publisher is you get to choose and control your sales channels.

If you have an e-book to sell then the obvious place to go and tout your wares is Amazon. Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing has an easy upload platform, good opportunities for testing the product before finally clicking Publish, global storefronts and facilities for tweaking the book page via Amazon Author Central. Happy days. Amazon even offers a couple of promotional schemes if you give them 90 days exclusivity and join KDP Select. Up to 5 days of Free Book Promotion (would you want to do that? Debate is never-ending on the subject) or the Kindle Countdown which gives a time-based promotional discount for your title. Why does Amazon offer these benefits in return for exclusivity? Because other channels do sell e-books.

If you decide to go the Free Book Promotion route with a title then KDP Select is the most controllable way of doing it. The benefits are assumed to include (1) creation of a broader readership (a properly promoted free run can garner a few tens of thousands of downloads), (2) a rush of verified purchaser reader reviews on Amazon (always a risk that some people won't love your baby like you do - freebie collectors may not all be your target reader demographic) and (3) a rush of paid sales when you end the free period and Amazon's algorithms push your title up the genre popularity charts. Current online discussions suggest that (1) needs paid advertising to achieve meaningful volume (paying to give away for free?!), (2) there be monsters but also some very positive reviews, pot luck, and (3) them auld algorithms ain't what they used to be.

So, other channels do sell e-books? Indeed. Anyone who has run an extensive e-book giveaway (e.g. LibraryThing Early Reviewers / Member Giveaways) knows that up to 50% of reviewers will ask for an e-book format other than Kindle. My experience across ten titles is around 50% Kindle, 35% e-pub and 15% pdf.

People are not all reading Kindle, so let's go offer our masterpiece to them. What channels should we use? Of course, everyone knows about Barnes & Noble Nook, Apple iTunes, Kobo, Sony (R.I.P.), Google Play (allegedly) et al.

How do we reach those channels? Some provide direct access. NookPress is the B&N entry point (until last week only available to USA authors), iBooks / iTunes requires an Apple Mac with iTunes Producer software, WritingLife is the Kobo platform and Google play has an updated interface. All a bit complicated. Aggregators such as SmashWords, Draft2Digital and eBookPartnership have been providing free or paid access to these and more for some time. That seems like an easy solution to what is looking like too much complexity. So go choose a distribution hub you like and let them do the work. Your e-book gets placed on all channels. Happy days again.

But wait. As an independent author or micro-publisher you might decide to update your book content. Perhaps you have back-matter links to include to a new release, mail list etc (no, of course you didn’t find some text edits that had been missed!) Is that book cover getting a bit dusty? Does your blurb no longer do it for you / new readers? Another double-edged sword is the flexibility with cover, blurb and content. It’s all too easy to blame flagging sales on one of these product components and so things get refreshed from time to time. Try feeding in a new cover, new blurb or new content into your channel distribution hub, then you will find that different channels change content at different speeds. Sometimes the cover or blurb on the product page will never change, and with many channels you have no way of checking the content unless it’s in the free sample, otherwise you have to buy it from that channel to check it (and that’s not always possible if you live outside the served market).

And think again. If you want to run a price promotion across different channels you need fast and accurate price control. Should the mighty BookBub deign to accept your request for a $400+ advertisement, sending your title out at 99c offer price to up to 1,000,000+ readers, then your ducks need to be well and truly aligned. Amazon, B&N, Apple and Google play sales links need to be included in the offer or you may miss up to 50% of potential sales volume from that BookBub mailout. The price needs to switch to and from the offer price on command, like a row of soldiers. If not then two things might happen: (1) you will miss full price after-sales and be stuck at 99c and / or (2) Amazon might price-match to a lower price elsewhere and your title could stay at that low level for a while. Stress and loss of earnings.

So what’s the prescription? Trust me, I’m a doctor. Go direct to channels wherever you can and only include those direct fast-reacting channels in your price promotions.

Amazon KDP price changes have to be made manually (we’re not talking about the KDP Select options here, just normal KDP) and normally take effect within a couple of hours.

Barnes & Noble – as I’m in Ireland it’s too early to judge NookPress (they don’t yet make payments to Ireland) but I imagine their response time to price (and content) changes is rapid. Draft2Digital is the hub I use for B&N and price / content control via D2D is within an hour or so.

Apple – if you don’t have a Mac then find a friend who does and get iTunes Producer downloaded to their machine. Then upload your content (cover, ebook as epub, blurb) via their Mac – it’s very intuitive. Once the content is uploaded you can then manage pricing, blurb and metadata via iTunesConnect on a PC. iTunesConnect allows scheduling of price changes, which is very useful.

Google play - will take you to the Google play upload platform. It’s much easier to upload content (cover, epub, blurb) than the previous version and allows scheduling of price changes. Note - you might want to make your regular Google Play price $1 higher than other channels as they have a habit of price-cutting.

Kobo Writing Life is easy enough to use but the speed of changes isn’t good and has caused Amazon price match problems in the past. At the moment I wouldn’t recommend using this channel in price promotions.

Proof of the pudding? I recently managed to get a BookBub 99c promotion for my crime novel Peril. Family events played havoc with my marketing plan and forcing me to travel out of the country for several days that coincided with the promotion. I had already scheduled price reductions on Google Play and iTunes for those days. KDP and D2D were easy enough to adjust during my travels using mobile internet access. The result, in addition to the expected flurry of Amazon sales, was around 500 paid sales across B&N, Apple and Google play, plus sales for other titles including the sequel Getting Out of Dodge. This compared very favourably with a promotion last year for The Baptist which generated good sales but left that title stuck in an Amazon low price match when other channels didn’t change as expected (see How to Throw Money Down the Toilet).

One last point. If you want to remove an e-book title from channels for some reason - e.g. to re-enter KDP Select, to switch rights to another publisher, to withdraw from the market – then be aware that distribution hubs have long tendrils. The paid hubs use global distributors such as Overdrive and, while these give excellent market coverage, it can take a very long time (months) to withdraw a title.

I’d like to finish this post by inviting all readers to join my publisher’s draw for a Kindle Fire HD. This is an international competition and closes end of April 2014.

Tuesday, 25 March 2014

It is not so, it was not so, and God forbid it should be so... - Susan Price

          The link - it does take a little time to load, sorry - will take you to my retelling of 'Mr. Fox' - the 'bloodthirstiest folk-tale in the English tradition.' It is not for the highly imaginative of nervous disposition.
          I coded up this e-book, in part, because I was asked, by the RSA Academy in Tipton, to hold a workshop teaching 'how to write a scary story.'
          I think folk-lore in general is a great teacher of how to create suspense and readability. Look at Billy Goats Gruff - a master-class in creating tension. You may not want to write about billy goats and trolls, but I'll forgive you for that. The principles of demonstrating the threat, making the audience wait, increasing the threat, and making the audience wait again, can be transposed to any kind of story.
Dr David Rose

          In the workshop I gave I drew on the work of Dr David Rose and his 'Reading to Learn' reading strategy.
          I was fascinated by the way Dr Rose breaks down every sort of writing into a blue-print. He writes that a practiced, 'natural' story-teller knows 'instinctively' how to tell a story. They don't need a blue-print.
          But, actually, they're following one without knowing it.   'A natural story-teller,' if you look closer, will be someone who has, from infancy, been told stories, had stories read to them, has watched stories acted out, has read hundreds of stories. They've had these 'story forms' modelled for them thousands of times, and they've absorbed them until they've become 'instinctive.'
          It's exactly the same way you learn to drive a car. You start by bunny-hopping, gear-clashing, hard-breaking and having to think about what you're doing every single moment - and usually getting it wrong. But, after long practice, you can drive smoothly, changing gear and operating the pedals without thinking about them, freeing your conscious mind to observe and anticipate. - You're now driving 'instinctively' but there is no inborn human 'instinct' for driving. It's the result of long practice and repetition.
          Someone with this long practice in stories needs only a hint - 'you need to get to your story faster - you need your main character to be more active' - and they know at once what the hint means, and what to do to improve.
          Someone without this background is as lost as I would be if asked to sail a boat across to Holland. What? I could not even begin. - But Julia Jones and Jan Needle of this blog would be up and doing at once, because they've been sailing since childhood and most of the problems that I could not even foresee would be 'instinctive' to them. And they could tell you stories while they were at it, because they've been writers since childhood too.
          Someone with a background, from childhood, in using words and hearing stories, has an 'instinctive' understanding of how to build an essay, how to build an argument, to persuade.
          David Rose's mission in life is to help those who don't have this background to accelerate their learning until it's on a level with those who do, to close 'the achievement gap.' He's shown, over and over again, that it can be done - and one way is to pick apart these forms, to break them down into steps. In other words, to make the instinctive explicit. You show students, 'This is how it's done.' You teach them the steps of the dance, if you like, and they practice it until it becomes instinctive.
          Of course, this is done in the earliest classes in schools - but very quickly it's assumed that the students already know the simple steps, or - if they don't - that they're not really capable of learning them. As an Royal Literary Fund Fellow, in a University, I met many intelligent students who didn't know how to construct an essay, or build an argument, who didn't know what 'passive voice' was, or why it should be of interest to them. One reason I was so impressed with David Rose's 'blue-prints' for texts is that I knew I could have used them every day as an RLF. I would have had them set up on my computer, I would have helped students 'fill in the steps' and I would have sent students away with a printed off essay plan.
          These 'basic' lessons need repeating. Not everyone - not even bright everyones - learn at the same speed.
           It doesn't matter if 'the blue-print' is rather mechanical and formulaic. The greatest pianist started by playing scales.
          At worst, those students who aren't really interested, will learn a few tricks to make their stories and essays better. The more those tricks are reinforced with better marks and praise, the happier they'll be about trying them, and the achievement gap will close a little.
Hubert Cole illustration: Wikimedia
          Those students with more interest, or more motivation, may find themselves going beyond using the mechanical formula.  They may become so practiced in it that it becomes instinctive, and then they'll find themselves wanting to play with it, and challenge it. Then they're on their way to becoming writers.

          In my workshop, 'How To Build a Scary Story in Simple Steps,' I used Mr. Fox as a model. I asked the students to look at the way 'scariness' was created in Mr. Fox - and then to invent something for their story that followed the same model. Their story didn't have to be set in the past. It didn't have to be about a vulpine serial killer - it could be about anything they found scary. But the parts of their story had to do the same job of work as the parts in 'Mr. Fox.'

          This blog has gone on long enough, I think. It would be twice as long if I went into more detail. Perhaps next time? - Enough to say that Rose breaks down all 'Narratives' into three sections: Orientation, Complication and Resolution.
          Each section has a different job to do within the narrative, and each section breaks down into smaller steps. It may sound confusing, but during the workshop I saw how quickly students latched on to the notion of transposing the pattern of 'Mr. Fox' to their own quite different story and inventing an equivalent scene.
          My biggest regret is that I didn't use the principle of 'tell them without telling them' more during the workshop. Instead of expounding, I could have used the plasma screen and my laptop to simply show them how it's done - with their input. We could have come up with a story together.
          But I'm hoping someone will give me the chance to run a new! improved! version of this workshop where I'll get a chance to do that.

Susan Price's website and contact details can be found here.

The 'flippable' e-book at the top of this blog can be found here, at Stories For Learning, together with other books.

Dr. David Rose is here, being interviewed (in English) on Danish TV.
The picture at the head of this blog is a 16th Century painting, artist unknown, of ’A Young Lady, aged 21.’ It is possibly a portrait of the Swedish born Helena Von Snakenborg, maid of honour to Queen Elizabeth I of England. Helena later became Marchioness of Northampton.  The image is taken from Wikimedia Commons.

Monday, 24 March 2014

Ethics - and writing about people with no right of reply - by Jo Carroll.

I write about travel - part of the fun of travelling is the people I meet.

I make no secret of my writing when I'm travelling. My notebook is on the table beside me as I eat; on my knee in bus stations. It is often the focus of poeples' curiosity. Am I a writer, they ask.

Some take the opportunity to tell me the story of their lives and then ask if I'll put them in a book. They're looking for their time in the spotlight. I make no promises. Others are reticent, needing to know I'll not scatter their secrets. I never do - if someone tells me something in confidence, then I keep it to myself.

And I give details of my books and web address to anyone who asks, so they can check up and see what I've said about them. They have a right to reply.

But I've just come back from Cuba, where people only have access to the internet if they can prove they need it for their businesses or for educational reasons. And this excludes, not only the obvious sites like Facebook and Twitter (and this blog), but also Amazon. There are no e-readers in Cuba. And so no access to books like mine.

Which leaves me with a dilemma. I have always felt that people have a right to see what I say about them. I change names and identifying details, but most people could find themselves without too much trouble. I work hard to make sure I find good in people, to write with respect, even if I disagree with their ideas or way of life. I don't have a right to make judgements.

But, if I write about Cubans I met - they will never know, never be able to contact me and say, no, that is not how they remember it. (Or yes, wasn't that birthday cake wonderful!). They have no right of reply.

Does that mean, ethically, that I shouldn't write about them?

If I don't, I'm colluding with a system that keeps Cubans and their ideas and difficulties out of the literature spotlight.

If I do, I'm making people into little more than performing animals, to be observed and commented on, without them having any possibility of making a contribution of their own.

What would you do?

(If you want to see how I've written about other people, there are plenty of links on my website:

Sunday, 23 March 2014

Small Steps for Me, Giant Leaps for My Productivity by Lev Butts

I have discussed before about writing as a kid, how I used to carry around a notebook everywhere and write whenever I had downtime, regardless how little (even a few seconds would grant me enough time to jot down a quick word or phrase and move my narrative infinitesimally forward).

Here we see a nine-year-old Lev Butts
an a family fishing trip
I carried that notebook (and others like it) around for years. For the longest time, the only way I could write was longhand, which virtually assured I'd never see any kind of publication, traditional or otherwise, since I lacked the motivation to go through the trouble of typing what I'd already written. Secretly, I hoped for some kind of apocalypse to occur so afterwards I could just travel around with my notebooks and read them to people for food and lodging, like a literate Mad Max.

Something like this only bookier.
It wasn't until I was in tenth grade, that I made the technological leap to a typewriter. It happened like this: My dad had done a favor for a coworker and been paid with this electric typewriter. Since my dad had no use for a typewriter (as a cop, most his writing involved reports that were either handwritten or typed at the station house), he passed it down to me. The typewriter even had a correcting ribbon, so if I mis-typed a word at the end of a page, I didn't have to retype the entire page to fix it.

I wrote my first real short story, "Captain Tory," on this typewriter, and I was hooked.

And that was my technological advance in writing for about seven years.

I was using an outdated typewriter before it was cool
to have been using an outdated typewriter before it was cool.
My next major tech shift occurred around my junior year of college when a friend built me my first computer. It wasn't much of a much. It was cobbled together from the innards of a Compaq and a Dell something-or-other and crammed into the shell of an old Apple thingy with an attached amber monochrome monitor.

Like this only crappier
It was on this machine that I discovered the wondrous virtues of word processing. It had a program that would present a roughly 8.5 by 11 amber rectangle, simulating a piece of paper, on which I could type my words just like with my typewriter except that I could erase mistakes by simply backspacing over them and retyping instead of having to retype the incorrect word on a white correction tape and then backspacing to type the actual, correct word.

Later, with the invention of the mouse, and copy and paste functions, and a whole slew of others, writing longhand in my notebooks became a thing of the mythic past. In the two decades since getting my first computer, however, I made few new advances in writing technology outside of periodically upgrading my computer and my version of Word.

Until the last couple of months.

Recently, I have made three major leaps forward into my own digital age of writing. For some of you, I'm sure these advances may already be obsolete, and you are already way ahead of us all and preparing for the singularity and the advent of Skynet, but hopefully, others are even further behind the digital curve than I and will therefore be able to feed my fragile ego with sufficient gasps amazement.

3. iPurtenance

Though I had all but abandoned my notebooks as my major means of writing once I got my computer, I still carried one around in order to jot down my ideas when I was away from home (it being fairly inconvenient to carry my computer with me everywhere).

I played around for about a minute and a half with the notes function on my cellphone but found that I really couldn't write too much on it as the characters were limited to about 160 (more than a tweet, but far less than I needed). So I kept my notebook with me for a while.

Until I discovered that my iPod had a much better note-writing program. Then I bought an iPad and discovered that not only could my notes be synced between the iPod and the iPad, but the iPad also supported a word processing program, so I could even work on my books directly in addition to or instead of simply jotting down notes for later.

It isn't perfect; I often have formatting errors when switching a file between my Apple Pages program and my PC Word program, but it's better than I expected.

In case you're wondering why I don't simply switch to an Apple computer
In December, I got my first iPhone, and discovered that Siri does voice notes. So now I can jot down ideas that occur to me while I'm driving without having to pull over or crash.

Now, of course, these or similar programs are pretty standard on any smartphone or tablet.

Needless to say, my notebooks, now, are merely a quaint memory of a simpler time.

With every new app, I move one step closer to your soul.
2. Google Everything

It is no secret that Google and Apple are in a race to own all of known creation. Google Maps pretty much outperforms Map Quest and Bing Maps. And Google Earth may be even better than Google Maps. Google's web browser, Chrome, seems to outperform all the other browsers available. Google has an online documents suite, an online full-text book search, and a multimedia platform for music,video, and ebooks. Hell, even this blog engine is owned by Google.

With every new service, I move one step closer to your soul

About the only thing Google has touched that hasn't turned to golden rainbows is its social networking site.

The first rule of Google+ is that no one cares about Google+
It was really only a matter of time before they supplanted portable storage devices. When I first started using a computer, I stored my documents on floppy discs that were roughly the size of dinner plates and held about a page and a half of text. By the time I graduated, the discs had shrunk to a little over half the size and might hold an entire short story. When I started my master's degree, they were a mere 3.5 inches wide and could hold an entire novel.

It's a digital TARDIS: The smaller it gets, the more room it has inside.

As I started my PhD, floppy discs had been made obsolete by USB drives, which could fit in that dinky little pocket inside your jeans pocket and could hold literally hundreds of documents.

Not just for condoms anymore.
While I'm sure I need not discuss the benefits of the USB drive here, one of the major drawbacks is germane to my topic: They're too damn small. I've seen some now that are literally small enough to fit in your navel (even if your an outie) and figuratively large enough to hold all seven volumes of Stephen King's The Dark Tower series and all fourteen volumes of Robert Jordan's The Wheel of Time.

This is all well and good for about fifteen minutes until you lose the damn thing or leave it in a computer somewhere or swallow it by accident.

Seriously, you lose one of these babies and
you have a better chance of finding a contact lens in a glass factory.
Enter Google Drive. Google Drive is like having a free USB drive online with about 15 gigs of free space. Basically, if you have internet access, you have your documents with you. Admittedly, I still keep a USB drive with me for emergencies: Some places I go either do not have easily accessible net service or have, for whatever reason, blocked Google Drive from their servers, so I still need to put my docs on the USB drive for those places, but if I lose the drive, at least I know my latest versions of my novel are backed up online. 

As an added bonus, since my iPad does not support USB drives, I can now access and edit my documents without having to email them to myself by downloading the Google Drive iPad app.

Join with me, Apple, and together we shall rule this galaxy as father and son.
1. Pinteresting Developments

If you had told me a few months ago that I would soon be using Pinterest on the regular, I'd have called you a damn fool. After all, I am male, and according to popular opinion, only women use Pinterest. Realistically speaking, while men do use Pinterest, they are by far the minority by a significant amount: Women represent anywhere from 62% to 80% of Pinterest's users.

Indeed, when I originally went to their site, I was bombarded with images of neat pastry/cake recipes, cute little crafty yarn things, and simply darling wedding dresses and decorations. I realized then that this was not the place for me.

Also this, I saw a lot of this.
When I asked friends and colleagues about it, I was told it was a place for "internet scrap-booking." Since I do not scrap-book in the real world, I saw no reason to do so virtually. 

Apparently, I am not alone.

I even decided to try to find evidence of men on pinterest by typing stereotypical manly activities into the search bar: 




Clearly, my results had less testosterone than a Justin Bieber concert.

That's just so...why you wanna hurt me like that, bro?
However, I now think the problem with men and Pinterest is the marketing. Once I began playing around with my wife's Pinterest page, I realized that Pinterest is not scrap-booking.

You ready for this?

Pinterest is bookmarking on the internet. 

Or maybe scrap-bookmarking, I guess.
Just as Google Drive essentially allows me to have an online USB drive, Pinterest allows me to have online bookmarks. 

Before this, I had bookmarks on different browsers on three different computers. While, yes, I know I can import bookmarks from one browser to another, and even one computer to another, I have realized in the past week that what I pin to my Pinterest page is actually a link to an external webpage.

In other words, a bookmark.

A bookmark I neither have to import to another browser or to another computer. I can save it once on the site and access it anywhere I have an internet connection. 

I now have boards for every aspect of my new novel. The only downside I can see is that I cannot have boards (think electronic file folders) within my boards, so that I can keep all my research for, say, Guns of the Waste Land separate from my research for my next project, a noir retelling of Ragnarok.

It is currently untitled. Guess what I was going to call it?
Clearly this makes researching my novels from different computers much much easier. 

I also learned how to make an awesome Cthulhu pie.

Saturday, 22 March 2014

Authors Electric Cook the Books

Cooking the Books - cover art work by Andrew Price

 Our regular blogger for today, Pam Howes, can't blog today - and while we all wish Pam well, it does give us a chance to announce the new Authors Electric anthology, Cooking the Books.
Go into any bookshop - go to Amazon - and what do you find? - Nigella, Jamie, Nigel, Louise, Gordon, Delia…

So, in self-defence, the Authors Electric decided to produce a cook book.
Gathered together here, on these electronic pages, you will find tasty treats and unusual eats from seventeen of the Authors Electric - and Cally Phillips donated a photograph of her hot-plate for the cover. (and Susan Price bribed her brother with cake and cider so he would design the cover.)
Valerie Laws wrote the words for the Amazon page: -
              Eating your words, devouring a book, writing and food go together like fiction and chips. Here’s a chance to cook from our books with e-readable recipes, or just get the not-so-skinny on what keeps authors stoked while they scribble: some of it yummy, some of it funny. An ebook to binge or snack on, where the calories are certified virtual. Dig in!

          Liz, Kathleen, Jan, Jo, Karen, Ann, Bill, Lyne, Sandra, Ruby, Julia, Die, Chris, Nick and Dennis all stirred in articles, extracts, recipes until we have a confection for everyone who loves reading and eating, or cooking and writing.  It's a book made for reading in short snatches on the train or bus or during a coffee-break.

      It'll be available very soon - and we're offering it at as low as price as Amazon allows. We hope you enjoy it!

Friday, 21 March 2014

My Adventures with Titles by Pauline Chandler

Friday, March 21st 

What’s in a Title? ‘A Rose By any Other Name Would Smell as Sweet…’ Well, .No, Actually it Wouldn’t..

It can take ages to choose the title of your next book. All writers know that the process can go on for months, with traditional publishers usually making the final decision.  I always have a title for my work-in-progress, a ‘working title’ that's useful when approaching publishers. Then, if all goes well and the book reaches the publication stage, there has to be some serious thinking about the final title. Some titles, I must say, are quite mysterious. 


                           They don't reveal much, do they? Perhaps that’s the point!

The title is important to me from the moment I put pen to paper. It’s a sort of seal on the deal, a promise that the work will be a proper book one day. As such, it has to be both inspirational and associated with the heart of the work.  

For months, my first book, ‘Dark Thread’, was called ‘Through a Glass Darkly’. That just about summed up the process of writing it, a sort of feeling my way in the dark, and the plot did hinge on a mirror, which acted as a doorway into the past. When I approached a publisher, the title and the magic mirror were soon discarded.‘Cliché!’ the editor cried.



As the story is about spinning and weaving, real and figurative, I came up with the title ’To Weave the Dark Thread’, which I thought had a certain gravitas for quite a serious book, but, on the fine principle that ‘less is more’, the publishers and I finally decided on ‘Dark Thread’ and I'm very pleased with it. 

My second book, now available as an ebook on Kindle, is simply called 'Warrior Girl'. That was not the title I chose, but the one decided on solely by the publisher. The book tells the story of Joan of Arc through the eyes of her friend, Mariane, who accompanies her on her campaign to save France from the English.

I wanted to call the book ‘Jehanne’, the name Joan of Arc used for herself and how she signed her name. She was illiterate and could only haltingly write her name. You can see her signature reproduced on this postcard I bought when I visited her birthplace, Domremy in France.

Writers have all kinds of reasons for choosing their titles; I simply thought 'Jehanne' was more respectful, really, to a major historical figure. But I do agree that from a marketing point of view, 'Warrior Girl' says more of what's in the tin. 

By the same rules, the publisher preferred ‘Viking Girl’ for the title of my next book. (Also now available as an ebook on Kindle).  I wanted to call it ‘Winternight’, the name of the Viking festival, which features in the climax of the story, but the final title was chosen to match ‘Warrior Girl, and so help build up a series.

For my next book, set largely in ancient Britain, I chose ‘At the Back of the North Wind’, which I loved. It was a description given to Ancient Britain by the Romans, some of whom were quite afraid of going there!  Then I discovered that there was another book by that name, so it had to be changed. Boo!  The title I finally chose was ‘The Mark of Edain’ which refers to the tribal tattoo carried by the two main characters, and the publisher liked the suggestion. Hooray! 'The Mark of Edain' is also now available as an ebook on Kindle.

Finally, I'm in the happy position of being able to choose my titles for myself. Do other writers choose their titles with an eye on the market? Do you consider the reader when you're choosing titles? Do titles matter? 

Pauline Chandler  March 21st 2014